Genus spotlight: Pilea

The genus Pilea is a popular plant today with a variety of compelling cultivars available. I want to reject the trope that a genus or species of plant can be boring or ugly. There are a diversity of Pilea available for gardeners interested in tropical plants, and several are suitable for beginners. The different leaf shapes, colors, and habits have the potential to spice up plant arrangements. The ease of propagation of Pilea makes them perfect to share with friends or family, and are safe, non-toxic for households with curious children or pets.

Last spring, I became obsessed with a plant I saw online: Pilea involucrata (mollis) “Moon Valley”. I had never owned a Pilea before, and I was fascinated by the dark brown color on the leaves and the texture, hard to describe in words but papery thin, sharply serrate, and corrugated. Soon after that, I decided to order it, and since then I’ve brought home several other varieties.

Around that time, I published an article about the genus without any experience taking care of them. Even a short time with them (at most 8 months, most recently a few weeks ago) has showed me that Pilea might deserve the reputation of being somewhat challenging, but definitely make up for it with vigorous growth and beautiful foliage given the right care.

General care across Pilea varieties

Pilea are herbaceous plants that can be found in tropical and temperate regions across the world. They are non-toxic in the nettle family, and generally have opposite leaf arrangement. They do not grow very large, some staying quite diminutive which makes them a good choice for terrariums or dish gardening. Pilea are generally suited for shady conditions making them reliable houseplants. Generally, they can handle small periods of dry soil, but missing a critical period of water-stress can seriously harm the plant. Careful not to water too often, because of the risk of root rot. I find my Pilea planted in terracotta dry out too fast; a plastic or ceramic pot may be best for your Pilea. Propagate by pups which grow from the base of the plant, or by stem cuttings. Roots usually grow from a node, the place on the stem where leaves (or one leaf) grew from.

Pilea peperomioides

Pilea peperomioides – friendship plant, UFO plant, Chinese money plant. Don’t mind the damaged leaf on mine!

An iconic, hugely popular species in recent years. Native to China, this plant has unmistakable round leaves. This species, like other Pilea, produces offshoots at the base of the plant: genetic clones of the main plant which can be left alone, or propagated to share with a friend. Named for its likeness to another plant genus, Peperomia. This plant used to be highly sought after, but has become very accessible due to its affinity for propagation and efforts by growers. A very new plant to me, but I’m thrilled to grow it because it has a lot of character. Surprisingly succulent, with a thick cuticle, I feel like P. peperomioides can handle drying out a little more than its thin-leaved relatives. These are easy to find practically anywhere that sells plants; I got mine from Hirt’s.

Pilea cadierei (variegata)

The aluminum plant is another classic Pilea, native to China and Vietnam. The variegated form is less common but I got mine from Steve’s Leaves. This and other thin-leaved Pilea begin to droop when thirsty; if you miss the beginning wilt, the plant will totally flop over. If you’re interested in a plant that will communicate its needs, Pilea cadierei is a really perfect option. The silver coloration on the leaves is really remarkable, and I feel like it’s on the level of Scindapsus pictus or a Hoya pubicalyx in terms of shimmery foliage. I notice that the variegation on this plant gets kind of brown over time, as is the case with other variegated plants. Providing ideal conditions (bright light, consistent nutrients and water) are most likely to preserve variegation. This is a plant I would recommend without a doubt to someone just getting started with plants.

Pilea cadierei minima “Patti’s Gold”

Pilea cadierei minima “Patti’s Gold” – miniature aluminum plant. Not as compact as some P cadierei minima on the market, but with a subtle yellow tint to the leaves.

This is a variety related to the regular aluminum plant, with smaller leaves and a more compact habit. This cultivar is from Glasshouse Works and I think it’s quite remarkable. Like the regular form of P. cadierei, this plant will wilt dramatically when it’s thirsty. One of my favorite plants, I think!

Pilea pubescens “Silver Cloud”

This variety is a cultivar with parentage that I’m really not sure about. The leaves are totally silver, with no trace of green. This Pilea and many of the other varieties in this post are more sensitive to underwatering, and will droop and lose leaves if left too long without water. Its growth habit is bushy, like other varieties, though I think it does better with regular pinching of the end of the shoots to promote branching, and a less leggy appearance. Very good plant for terrariums because it stays fairly small. Bought mine from Steve’s Leaves.

Pilea involucrata [mollis] “Moon Valley”

I have a small “Moon Valley” cutting from Josh’s Frogs, which didn’t do the best in my care, and a larger pot from Hirt’s. I want to pot them together though I’m worried that the plant from Hirt’s won’t have the dark coloration of the other one. Looking closely at the plant on the left, you can see a white inflorescence, which I usually pinch off to promote leaf growth, but not to much success. In the past, I’ve seen the inflorescence develop a pinkish color. To be totally honest, I am unsure whether these plants are the same variety, but I hope to know in time as they grow. In the spring I will probably cut the bigger plant back a bit to promote some growth at the base. I find this plant doesn’t really wilt as much when it gets thirsty, though I think with a trained eye you might be able to tell. Does it live up to my expectations? For what it’s worth, I think I struggled to get the watering right with this plant at first which probably impacted its growth for me. In terms of looks and texture, I think the Moon Valley variety is awesome. If you’re looking for a plant that’s similar to this but with a little more green, I’d suggest the similar Pilea grandifolia, which has brighter green leaves and a more subtle leaf texture.

Pilea “Dark Mystery”

This Pilea is another one that has been slightly difficult to learn the care. It has been relatively slower growing than other Pilea, and will very dramatically wilt when it needs water. I have been a little late to water this plant for a few weeks now which I think has been causing it stress. I’m even a little worried I see spidermites on the leaves, but that’s the reality for indoor gardening especially during the winter. The flowers are kind of weird, and I’ve never seen it quit producing blooms in the months I’ve had it in my care. I think it’s a really stunning plant. I think it might be related to Pilea dentata or semidentata. I bought this plant with my P. “Silver Cloud” from Steve’s Leaves last spring.

Pilea spruceana “Norfolk”

Pilea spruceana “Norfolk” – dark gray leaves with parallel silver bands going down the leaf. Leaves rounder than other varieties. Distinct leaf texture, looks almost like it was made out of yarn. Pink backsides to leaf. Very fuzzy leaves and stems!

This variety is a bit of a sad story for me, and a reminder that watering Pileas can be a challenge. I noticed my plant was beginning to droop not long after I watered it, which indicated to me that there was some kind of stress acting on the plant. Because it was droopy while the soil was still damp, I felt really anxious that I had a root rot situation on my hands. So, I took some cuttings as insurance in case my original plant doesn’t make it. I’ve struggled to get the care for this plant right, but I do know that it (like other Pilea) propagate rather well from stem cuttings. If you’re looking to fill out your Pilea plant or share a piece with your friend, rooting in water (or by sticking the stem straight into the soil) is relatively fast and easy.

Pilea glauca “Silver Sprinkles”

Pilea glauca “Silver Sprinkles” – thin reddish stems with cold, blue-gray foliage.

This Pilea (and P. depressa) have miniature foliage in comparison to the other plants mentioned before. I’ve thrown tiny cuttings of this plant into terrariums with a great deal of success, the only issue being that it needs to be cut back every once in a while. Very undemanding care in this tiny jar, I just water it when it seems to be pretty dry.

Pilea depressa

Pilea depressa -bright green leaves and stems, very succulent with a thicker cuticle than most Pilea. Much smaller than the other varieties.

This plant was given to me as a couple of stems to put in my terrariums, a couple of which I rooted in a jar and let grow wild! The leaves are very thick and start to shrivel when it needs water, like most succulents. Its small habit makes it a good choice for a terrarium, or grown out in a big pot I believe they start to trail. I barely water this one, and it grows happily for me. Also comes in a variegated form.

More Pilea Varieties

There are a great deal of other Pilea that are worth mentioning:

  • P. cadierei minima – current cultivar is much more compact than the minima in my care, “Patti’s Gold” from Glasshouse Works
  • P. nummulariifolia
  • P. “Silver Tree” – Looks like P. “Silver Cloud” but larger, with darker gray leaves and coppery new growth
  • P. “Moonlight” – from Glasshouse Works
  • Variegated P. peperomioides?
  • P. “Espresso” – Looks like P depressa but a little chocolatey
  • P. microphylla aka “artillery plant” – similar to P. depressa or P. glauca
  • P. grandifolia, including “Coral” cultivar
  • P. semidentata
  • P. mucosa – similar to nummularifolia
  • Glassbox Tropicals varieties: “Purple Ecuador”, repens, and others. Note that high humididty-loving plants may struggle in typical household conditions.

Found a lot of these additional varieties by searching Google!

Plant profile: Peperomia obtusifolia

In stark contrast to the global plant craze, Peperomia obtusifolia has remained cheap, easy-to-find, and totally stunning. A worthwhile addition to any home or houseplant collection, this plant is undemanding and a good lesson in the care needs of succulent and epiphytic plants.

My Peperomia obusifolia variegata in a chicken cachepot

Native to Central America, Peperomia obtusifolia (lit. “blunt-leaved peperomia”, also known as baby rubber tree) grows in stalks with a bushy habit. It has thick, waxy leaves and has been cultivated widely with several different varieties now available on the market. This species, like other peperomias, stays fairly small, making it a good choice for small spaces or a part of a large collection.

Care & connections to other species

As far as Peperomias go, P. obtusifolia is a succulent species. This means the plant has thicker leaves and stems to store water, and a waxy layer to protect the plant from losing too much water from evaporation from the sun’s rays. Many plants that first come to mind when we hear “succulent” are desert plants, like cacti, echeveria, aloe, and others, but you may be surprised to learn that many (including P. obtusifolia) are found in humid, tropical climates where water is fairly abundant.

Photo by Scott Webb on

This leads us to a discussion about epiphytic plants. In climates that can sustain many plant species, some have adapted to live most or all of their life on the surface of other plants (like the trunks of trees) or rocks: these are epiphytes. Since these plants don’t live in the soil, water quickly drains from their roots, so during dry periods they must rely on stored water to survive, just like desert plants.

Peperomia is an incredibly diverse genus of plants, but most of its species prefer to dry out between waterings, and frequent waterings can rot the stems and roots of the plants. My obtusifolia is planted in a peaty potting mix and a plastic nursery pot, which both retain water well. For this reason, I rarely water my plant, and only do so when I notice it drooping, every two (sometimes three) weeks. When watering, it’s important to fully saturate the soil, allowing excess water to drain out through the drainage hole at the bottom. If you’re unsure whether your plant is thirsty or not, I usually say that it’s better to wait: when in doubt, dry it out.

Other succulents and epiphytes have similar needs to this plant, such as:

  • snake plant
  • cacti
  • hoya
  • jungle cacti
  • thanksgiving/ christmas/ easter cactus
  • jade
  • aloe
  • other succulents


Peperomias can be propagated by leaf or stem cuttings, or possibly by seed if your plant produces flowers. With a clean blade (or scissors) cut between two leaves along the stem, and place the top cutting(s) in soil or water. To propagate by leaf, carefully remove a leaf and bury it about halfway in soil (petiole down) or in water. If propagating in soil, water about the same as usual, taking care not to let the cutting dry out. If propagating in water, wait until roots have formed to about three inches before potting them in soil. I would recommend using a fast draining potting mix for Peperomia species, by amending with perlite (or vermiculite/pumice) or by purchasing a well draining mix, such as cacti & succulent or orchid mix.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, Peperomia obtusifolia is one of my favorite plants: it’s very easygoing and rewarding to grow. Some people stay away from peperomias because they think they’re hard to grow, but I disagree; with the proper care, they will thrive, and hopefully they bring you as much joy as mine brought me.


Plant profile: Succulent sp. Aloeae

If you have a species/variety ID for this plant, please reach out to me!

Two years ago for my birthday, one of my close friends bought me this succulent. I took it with me to college, hardly watered it, though it survived my entire freshman year. Over the summer I started getting really interested in houseplants, though I unfortunately was never able to get this plant to thrive; I repotted it about a year after it was gifted to me, and found it was potted almost entirely in moss, and had no root system! It’s kind of a miracle that this plant is still alive today, and luckily seems to be thriving in a new pot and with significantly better care.

So… What is this plant anyways?

I have spent perhaps hours searching the internet for a species name for this plant, which you might be able to tell I had labeled as Haworthopsis attenuata. The plant forms a rosette of thick, sharp leaves that are speckled with white, with rosy undertones toward the base. The reason this is such a challenge to identify lies in both the huge species diversity of the succulent clade of plants, conflicting online information, and the frequent hybridization between plants of different species (even from different genera!). My instinct for this plant was that it was a species of haworthia, a type of succulent closely related to the aloes and gasteria, though now I’m not so sure. The growth structure of haworthia species is much more compact, with wide bases of the leaves ending in an acute tip. Gasteria species tend to spread out a bit more, and have broader leaves that taper off towards the end, rather than gradually getting thinner to a point like haworthia.

Left image via, right image via pinterest

You can view a ton of examples of these plants with a quick google search, but due to the conflicting traits of my plant, I can’t really say for sure what I specifically have. Maybe I can encourage this plant to flower this summer and hopefully have more information to assess.

Care & propagation

Like other succulents, aloe, haworthia, gasteria, and any hybrids between them have similar needs. First, well draining soil is necessary; too much moisture will promote the growth of pathogens that could harm the plant. In my case, insufficient drainage prevented my plant from developing a strong root system. Amending regular potting mix with perlite (or vermiculite or pumice, depending on how fancy you are) will help promote drainage. From what I’ve read, these plants can tolerate being planted in shallow dishes just fine, though I 100% recommend planting it in a container with a drainage hole in any circumstance. Water infrequently in the winter, and after the substrate has fully dried in between waterings in the summer. If you leave your plant to dry out, lower leaves will die and crisp up to keep the rest of the plant alive.

Bright sunlight is what will most benefit these types of succulents, though I’ve known people to keep them in lower light conditions. To prevent pests, a good spritz with diluted soapy water once a month and a thorough rinse has been successful for me.

To propagate, these succulents can be rooted from a top cutting, or by separating pups that form as offshoots from the stem. When I discovered my plant had no root system, I rooted it in soil by steadying the base with some pebbles, and watering the soil after it was fully dry. I haven’t checked on the root system since last summer, but judging by how the plant has steadied itself it appears to have rooted successfully. Be sure not to expose unrooted plants to full sun, though: without the means to absorb water, direct sunlight can be too harsh and evaporate water faster than your plant can replenish itself.

Besides the sentimental value that this plant holds, it’s truly surprising me with its resilience and beauty, in spite of the neglect I gave it for a long time. I’m eager to expand my collection of gasteria and haworthia in the future to truly appreciate the diversity of this group of plants!

The wonderful world of cacti

One variety of my Myrtillocactus geometrizans. Let me know if it looks sick to you…

The family Cactaceae is a wonderfully diverse group of succulent plants, with around 100 genera and over 1500 species, spread across three (or four) subfamilies. Unique to the Americas (excepting Rhipsalis baccifera, the only species found elsewhere), cacti have evolved to survive in some of the harshest environments, with waxy, succulent stems, spines, and an array of growth habits ranging from small spiky barrel cacti, tall arborescent saguaros, opuntias with pads, and jungle cacti that grow epiphytically in tropical forests.

Growing cacti indoors

I will try to avoid making sweeping generalizations here, but with so many unique species, it is a little hard to cover them all. Here are some tips for cactus care indoors:

WaterDesert cacti:
• Summer – water after soil is completely dry
• Winter – water after several days (up to 2 weeks) of totally dry soil
Jungle cacti:
• Summer & winter – water when pads/stems are tender or shriveled, or when soil is noticeably dry
SunDesert cacti:
• Brightest light possible
Jungle cacti:
• Bright, indirect light
Soil mixDesert cacti:
• Gritty, fast draining
• Add plant safe (clean) sand or grit to mix
Jungle cacti:
• Chunky, fast draining mix
SpinesFor spiny cacti (not all varieties have sharp ones) wear gloves when handling, or bend a piece of cardboard to clamp the plant if you need to handle it.

The adaptation to tolerate drought make cacti good indoor houseplants, and help them survive in natural environments where water is scarce. Above all else, remember that cacti are tough plants; if you are unsure if they’re thirsty or not, it’s probably safer to wait a few more days (or weeks).

Growing in the midwest (or at higher latitudes)

I live in a climate with harsher winters and poor light during the winter. It is especially important during this time (if you live in a similar environment) to avoid overwatering your cacti. I typically wait 2-3 weeks in between watering for my plants that live in 4-inch terracotta pots, but they would probably be fine for 4 or maybe 6 weeks if I forgot to water for a while. In the summer, make sure to water a bit more frequently (allowing the soil to fully dry in between), and provide good sun if you want your plants to be the happiest. I believe some immature cacti species can tolerate lower light conditions, but they may not thrive.

Growing in the desert (or at lower latitudes)

Without a winter season, but with year-round sun and higher temperatures, care for cacti is different in this part of the world. I might recommend seeing Becca de la Plants’s YouTube channel, where she (at some point I think she might have moved lol) cared for cacti and succulents in the desert.

Other notes

Cacti make fantastic beginner plants due to their high availability, low cost, and high resistance of underwatering. Their small size and slow growth make them good for container gardening, and allow collectors to keep a lot of them at once.

Rhipsalis sp.; possibly baccifera


For cacti with segmented pads or stems, simply twisting one off, letting it callus over, and sticking it in soil should be enough for roots to form. Water it like you would any of your other cacti.

For cacti with unsegmented pads or stems, such as columnar cacti, it’s necessary to make a top cutting of your plant. With a sterilized, sharp blade, make a division at some point on the stem of your plant. Depending on the girth of your cactus, it may need to callus for several hours, or maybe a couple of days. Wait until the wound is totally dried out before planting in cactus soil and watering it like usual.

Avoid placing propagating plants in harsh, direct sun, as there are no roots for the plant to rehydrate.

Final thoughts

Honey, get a cactus. Even under the most harsh conditions, they root themselves down and keep growing, slowly but surely. The plant is a symbol of resilience for a lot of people, and for good reason. It’s kind of saccharine, but I feel like cacti are a good reminder that we can grow even when things are really tough, which is kind of nice. After all, even if you’re struggling, your cacti will be fine until you’re ready to care for them again. 🙂

Opuntia monacantha variegata

Plant profile: Peperomia sp.

Peperomia obtusifolia var.; an inexpensive, common, totally gorgeous species (and great for indoors!).

In the last like 24 hours I’ve gone a little Peperomia crazy; with exams coming up, this is a perfectly reasonable way to procrastinate studying, right?

The first plant from this genus I purchased was a P. caperata cultivar, which I unfortunately overwatered a few weeks after I bought it. Recently I picked up an obtusifolia which I hope to redeem myself with. Though they’re rather diminutive and understated, there is something totally fascinating in the huge diversity of the genus: 1500+ described species, and tons of unique cultivars, too.

Growing Peperomia

Because there are so many varieties within this genus, it’s impossible to go one by one and give specific instructions for Peperomia care; in fact, I feel like it’s risky to take the care suggestions of certain plants (as found on their tag, or online) as gospel. The way you are going to take care of your plant specifically depends on so many factors, including but not limited to environmental (house) temperature, humidity, sunlight, size of your specific plant, the size of the root ball, type of pot used, type of substrate (soil) the plant is in, the season (which can extend to your hemisphere & sunlight), etc. Looking at three different varieties of Peperomia, we can practice using observational skills to make inferences about plants’ needs.

First, let’s consider the geographical distribution of the genus Peperomia. According to the sources I’ve read, they are mostly spread out in the tropics, but most abundant in Central and South America (aka the Neotropics). The tropical region of Central and South America is intersected by the Andes, and is bordered by steppes in the South and arid regions in the North. This is all useful background knowledge when we take some species as examples.

P. caperata

This pep is pretty small and has short internodes between thin rippled leaves. There are of course a lot of cultivars of this species, but I think many varieties are fairly dark green or reddish in color. This appears to be an understory plant, so it would likely struggle in harsh, direct sun. From my experience with this plant, it is prone to rot, so it is important to allow it to dry out a little between waterings. Many peps are actually epiphytic plants, growing in decaying trees; they can tolerate (and possibly prefer) fast draining, airy potting mix. Many Peperomia share a similar growth habit to this species, and it is fine to analogize new plants to similar species that we already have experience with.

P. obtusifolia

This pep can get rather stemmy, with longer internodes between leaves and thick, succulent leaves. Judging by this habit, we can expect that this plant can tolerate being dried out for short periods of time, and likely adapted to conserve water in environments with seasonal dry periods. Other succulent, stemmy Peperomia probably require similar care, and of course, because this plant doesn’t grow very large, it can grow just fine in indirect sunlight.

P. prostrata

Finally, this pep has a vining habit with small, succulent leaves. Like before, this leads me to think that this may be an epiphytic species, and its traits suggest it can tolerate dry periods in a fast-draining potting mix. There are a lot of vining species of Peperomia, some of which have tiny, succulent leaves like this one and others with bigger, semi-succulent leaves; water availability is a factor that limits growth of plants, and in the wild, a prostrate growth habit is one that conserves water. P. scandens, with a similar habit but larger leaves, probably requires very similar care, just needing more water to survive.

Taking these factors into account, and with a little research (Wikipedia is usually fine, I think!), you can logically try to figure out how to care for your plants. Take this with a grain of salt, though, since evolution happens in unexpected ways and does not always occur logically. If all else fails, finding analogies to plants you already know is the safest way to care for new plants.

Propagating Peperomia

Peperomia can be propagated with stem or leaf cuttings, which is really interesting to see. We know many popular plants require a node to successfully clone the plant tissue, but peps have the awesome ability to de-differentiate their leaf cells to grow new plants. I recommend watching one of Onlyplants’s YouTube videos for propagation tips. Another interesting note is that variegation can only be preserved when cuttings are taken from the tops of stems, because the genetic chimerism of the leaf tissue is unstable, and will revert.

Aesthetics of Peperomia

If you are thinking about bringing a Peperomia (or maybe more!) into your home, you may have a lot of considerations to make due to the diversity of habits across the genus. There is a huge variety of shapes and sizes and colors that are available, and most (with some exceptions) are inexpensive.

In a glass container with an open top, feature your favorite Peperomias in a terrarium-type setting. For an added challenge, try choosing a theme for your peps, such as choosing a geographical region to limit yourself to or certain varieties that have colors that go together. Make sure you include a layer of drainage at the bottom of the container (Peperomias rarely tolerate excess moisture) and try to include species with similar watering requirements to avoid any undue stress on the plants.


Mathieu G., the Internet Peperomia Reference,, 2001-2020.

Photo by nastia on

Plant profile: Epipremnum aureum – pothos varieties

Image via Flickr.

Golden pothos is the number one essential houseplant for any plant enthusiast. It’s been in cultivation for decades, after being first described in the late 19th century.

Pothos are forgiving plants, easy to propagate, and tolerate (to a reasonable degree) the neglect of a beginner plant hobbyist. Well known across the globe, this plant has earned its elite status by being simultaneously beautiful and reliable.

There are a number of cultivars of E. aureum, which all share the same vining habit and similar characteristics.

An invader

Though it’s an amazing houseplant, wild pothos grow in many environments in the tropics as an invasive species. When non-native species are introduced into ecosystems beyond their range, they compete with native species for resources and can cause significant environmental damage. Strangely, these plants evolved to lose genetic regulators responsible for inducing flowering, meaning these plants rarely ever set seed without human intervention. Though this prevents them from overtaking new habitats (to a degree) by preventing seed dispersal, it raises some interesting questions about the genetic diversity and longevity of the species.


There are a huge number of cultivars of this plant, which makes it near impossible to name them all here.

  • Green varieties
    • Jade
    • Golden
    • Neon
    • Jessenia
    • Global Green
    • Shangri-la
  • Variegated varieties
    • Pearls and Jade
    • Marble queen
    • N’joy
    • Snow queen
    • Manjula


Epipremnum aureum is closely related to the Cebu Blue pothos (E. pinnatum, I killed mine over the summer), and some other less common species (E. giganteum). It is also closely related to the Rhaphidophora and Scindapsus genuses.

My highly variegated Pearls and Jade cultivar. Other vines more closely resemble the typical pattern.
My Shangri-la pothos (which is dying lol) planted with reverted Jade cuttings.

Propagate your pothos

Step one, clean a pair of scissors or a knife. Step two, make cuts between the nodes (where you can see little root stubs and the base of the petiole meets the leaf). Let callus for an hour or two and place in a container of clean water. It’s so easy and rewarding!! Once water roots have formed, you can plant in soil.

More information